Tech Tips #7 - Hot Gear for 2010

With CES in Las Vegas officially kicking off today, it seems more than appropriate that I put together my list of cool gear and innovations to look out for this year. 2009 saw a lot of advances and a close peek at what to expect. 2010 promises some major changes for notebook users in particular, so if you are itching to make that purchase, you'll be eager to see all the hot, new tech coming now.

1. Pinetrail

Netbooks certainly aren't new on the block, but you can expect 2010 to be the year of the netbook. Intel's newest CPU/chipset iteration finally brings netbooks up to a level of maturity that has been seriously lacking in this segment. With the added CPU performance boost, considerably longer battery run times and the ability to run Microsoft's latest Windows 7 at an acceptable level, Pinetrail will make netbooks more attractive than they have ever been in the past. Toshiba and HP have already announced models to go on sale shortly, but if last year is any indication, I might hold on for the products coming after mid-year. I'll be definitely looking for a Pinetrail model with a high-res screen and a broadcom hardware HD video accelerator on board.

2. Arrandale

Announced just this week, Arrandale is the replacement for all those mobile Core 2 Duo processors notebooks have been shipping with for the last several years. Unlike the Clarksfield processors already being used, Arrandale now integrates IGP on the CPU package. A smaller die shrink to 32nm also promises far better battery run times than what last year's Core 2 Duo P series models could achieve. In addition, you'll find the traditional northbridge gone as the CPU now handles the memory controller and PCIe lanes.

The integration of on-board graphics further brings to the mainstream the functionality of hybrid graphics. Rather than power a separate GPU constantly, Arrandale allows the discreet solution to be powered down for basic 2D work using the on-chip GPU. Expect to see Arrandale notebooks on sale both with and without discreet graphics solutions. The good news is the IGP will handle flash and HD video much better than the previous GMA4500HD.

I would not be surprised either to see the lowest power 18W Arrandales find their way into those 11"-12" machines some folks call low-power notebooks. Might these ULV parts somehow find a home in an even more compact 10" device? Being technically fully possible, it would make for an extremely potent netbook indeed.

3. The case of the gaming notebook

2009 saw only one major announcement for gaming notebook fans, that being the Alienware M17x from Dell. With DX11 already set to go for desktops, 2010 should be the year we see the new GTX300M series from NVIDIA and the Mobility Radeon 5000 series from AMD emerge. Expect to see SLI and crossfire versions for the deep-pockets.

Arrandale, however, throws a small spanner in the works with it's integrated graphics solution. Much like my Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708, you will most likely find gaming notebooks using SLI parts for heavy DirectX activity while reverting to the power-friendly integrated GPU for 2D work.

How this works out with the more expensive quad-core Clarksfield will be interesting, and presents users with a good question. Do you go with a high-performance i7-920M and give up the power-saving IGP or take the less-powerful i5 Arrandale and build a 2 or 3 GPU hybrid machine? With choices now for single/dual GPU dedicated graphics, and processors with/without integrated graphics, it may become even more difficult to find a vendor that offers the customization options that enthusiasts seek. Most likely by the time we reach H2 we'll have a better view of how manufacturers have pampered consumers with models and options.

4. Gulftown

Core i9 is on the way, and being socket-compatible with Core i7, you can expect to see those clever (or borderline crazy) engineers at Clevo prototype a 6-core/12-thread 17" mobile workstation. Some may question the practicality of such a notebook, and in the past have rightly dismissed the use of desktop parts for mobile applications. Others may argue that extreme performance is a requirement. The bottom line is machines with big CPU horsepower do have their uses, and short of dragging a behemoth desktop case along, those who absolutely need the mobility will choose exactly such a system, irrespective of the high four-figure price.

5. Windows Mobile 7

While not related to notebooks/netbooks, Windows Mobile 7 should fundamentally change the mobile OS seen so far on pocket PC devices and smartphones. I have always favored the MS platform for compatibility with what I do on my notebooks/netbooks. New smartphone hardware coming in 2010 from various manufacturers will be flooding the phone market in tandem with the new OS. I've been very impressed with the touch interface on the ZuneHD, so if that is any indication, WM7 paired with the right hardware should be a huge jump from 6.x. I expect performance and usability to increase significantly.

So there you have it! My top picks for what to look out for this year. Obviously as time rolls by we will see more details emerge and a closer look at the gadgets coming out. I'll be covering it all closely at lgpOnTheMove, and I'm expecting to get my first review unit in the next few weeks. 2010 is set to be a fun year indeed for the mobile tech enthusiast!

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